Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).
Week 4 (1/22-1/28): I.2.3 (pgs. 149–176)
How do Imagine Dragons and Reformed Orthodox prolegomena relate? If you keep reading Muller, he’ll definitely make you a “believer” in reading our old sources and trying to appropriate them for use in the church today. The context of my reading Muller pages 177–220 is preparing an evening sermon series on what we as Christians are to delight in and love as expressed in the Ten Commandments. A part of my doing that is using lyrics from many popular songs to illustrate the world’s delights and loves. As you’ll see, Reformed Orthodoxy is important for helping our people interact with the songs they hear on the radio. Let me explain.
In this section Muller deals with Reformed Orthodox definitions and discussions about two words: theology and religion. (He also gives a little smack down to those relying too heavily on Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics, because he re-organized material contrary to the writers’ own intentions (p. 150). But that’s neither here nor there!) Muller reminds us that the necessity of defining terms was a product of the institutionalization of Protestantism (p. 151).
Concerning the definition of theology as “the teaching of living well” (Ramus, p. 150), this set a trajectory of discussion going forward between theology as science being more theoretical or practice, or something of a hybrid. One of the issues the Orthodox faced was that the etymology of “theology” came from pagan sources. So was it even a Christian endeavor? The answer is yes, because as we’ll see, everyone is a theologian. Men like Du Moulin said the distinction between the philosophers and us is that theology is a “science of divine things…not according to humane reason, but divine revelation” (p. 153). Hence Muller shows that many writers preferred the term “divinity” to “theology” to emphasize that our knowledge of God comes from God himself via revelation (pp. 156–157).
This brings us to Imagine Dragons’ song “Believer.” It’s a song about making something of oneself despite what everyone says about you. In many ways it’s a great motivational song. One of the lines is this:
“Don’t you tell me what you think that I can be
I’m the one at the sail, I’m the master of my sea,
The master of my sea.”
Why should we, especially we pastors, spend our time reading up on definitions of theology? Everyone’s a theologian because everyone knows God (Rom. 1:18ff.). And so every song your people listen to is catechizing them into some belief system. And this is where the Orthodox discussion not only of theology in general but of true v. false theology is so helpful. Everyone is a theologian; not everyone is a true theologian (pp. 158–164). But can “true theology” even exist, especially if we even grant that Scripture as sermonem Dei (word of God) is not exactly the same as theology of sermonem de Dei (word about God) (p. 154)? I mean, isn’t Imagine Dragon’s conception of God, self, and reality just as valid as Amandus Polanus’? It was Polanus who said simply: “If God exists, it is necessary that theology exists” (p. 162). This was in direct contrast to medieval nominalism that said there was no necessary relationship between words and things. That philosophy is still around when you hear lines like, “There is no absolute truth,” “You create your own reality,” “Words like ‘male’ and ‘female’ don’ really mean anything.”
And so what happens in our modern word is a sharp dichotomy between theology and religion. We hear it in lines like, “I’m spiritual; I’m not religious.” But the Orthodox said Christianity involved the whole of our faith and life because right theology is connected to right living and worshipping of the true God (pp. 165–166). How you live is intimately a part of what you know.
For me, as Reformed Orthodox Christian, this means at the end of the day that my life here on earth is not based on my projection that “I’m the master of my sea” but based in God’s gracious revelation of himself to my in Scripture. And that revelation shapes my adoration of Him in my mind, with my will, and in all my affections.
Join us next Wednesday as Michael Lynch blogs through the reading for Week 5 (1/29-2/4): I.2.4 (pgs. 177–220).
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For previous posts in this series, see: